Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On Waiting and Outrage

If Denard Span isn’t outraged, he probably should be. And maybe we should be too. Instead, we all wait.

There was “Free Johan”. And “Free Morneau”. And even “Free Kielty” (much as we might like to forget it). And earlier this year there was “Free Kubel”. All of them had three ingredients:

1. An obvious need,
2. A player who looks like a great fit and
3. A frustratingly slow reaction by the Twins.

There is a perception nationally that the Twins are hesitant to trust young players and too enamored with veterans, and I believe it is largely based on those campaigns. The reality is that there aren’t many teams that consistently turn over as many roster spots to players from their farm system as often as the Twins do, and far less that consistently have had success doing so. But the long-term success doesn’t stick with us as long as the frustration of watching Johan in the bullpen or Morneau waiting for Mientkiewicz to get injured.

Also, a good chunk of us baseball wonks classify ourselves as prospect hounds, roto players, or hard core fans, and for various reasons each of those three groups love the quick fix. And, frankly grumbling can be so much more entertaining. We don’t stay up late to watch David Letterman so he can tell us how great everything is.

This week we’re seeing signs of a new campaign, and all the same macro ingredients are there. Three of the four worst Twins everyday hitters are playing in the outfield. And Denard Span, the hottest AAA prospect for the Twins, just happens to play outfield. And yet, nothing.

Nobody within the Twins denies that he should be here. It’s damn hard to argue against a guy who had an impressive spring training, is a first round pick, and is posting a ridiculous .450 on-base percentage at Rochester. (How silly is that OBP? The highest OBP a Twins has ever put up over a full season is .449 by Rod Carew in that magical 1977 season).

The problem is that nobody is sure exactly how you squeeze him on this roster. On Monday Jim Souhan suggested getting rid of Mike Lamb to make room, but Lamb fills a role that this team has lacked for the last couple of years, even if he is overpaid for it: left-handed pinch hitter. The Twins aren’t going to give that up any time soon (and shouldn’t).

Another option would be to reduce the number of arms in the Twins bullpen. That means losing Brian Bass or Boof Bonser to another organization. That’s not a terribly tough pill to swallow if the Twins had last year’s bullpen, but this year it’s hard to reduce the organization’s depth in relievers.

Both of those solutions also ignore the problem of finding Span at-bats once he gets here. If he’s going to take at-bats from an outfielder, why not send one of them down? Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez should both have options, so the Twins don’t risk losing either one, and both have recently stalled in their development at the major leagues. But both are also very young raw players that the Twins knew would struggle. Plus they would replace them with another young, fairly raw player and they would be doing so during a pennant race when they’re just a couple of games out of first place.

And so they (and Denard) wait. And we wait too, because we’re not quite sure we believe. Span is harder to believe in because we’ve fought so hard to counter-balance the expectations heaped upon a first round pick that just wasn’t performing. For five years he struggled and for five years we tried to tell everyone that this was another draft failure. And that makes it a little harder to embrace the statistical changes we see this year. And saw this spring. And last fall.

And so we all wait. The Twins wait to see if a spot opens up due to injury or incompetence or even petulance. And we wait to get outraged and start our “Free Span” campaign.

And Denard waits for both.


Anonymous said...

John, I think it is just a matter of time before Span is brought up again. He will undoubtedly be the first to be called up if an OF lands on the DL. I will also not be surprised if the Twins were to send Gomez down if he goes into a prolonged slump, which appears to be the direction he is heading. Lately, he has not been the catalyst that he was earlier in the season.

twayn said...

I think you have to also consider Bill Smith's mindset in the equation. Span has been in the organization since day one, while Young and Gomez are high-profile Smith acquisitions. As such, they are going to get every chance to prove themselves "at the major league level," as Bert likes to say (way too often). Smith does not have nearly the same vested interest in seeing Span succeed as a major league player as he does in seeing Young and Gomez succeed with the big club.

ThatsRich said...

Sending down Gomez or Young isn't the right thing to do unless you plan on inserting Span as the more-or-less everyday starter in their place. (And this takes no account of what a demotion of Young - or to a lesser extent, Gomez - might "say" to that player or the fanbase in general.)

If you're bringing Span onto the MLB roster as a viable fourth outfielder and to spot-start and give rest to the other primary starters, then you need to look to the bench.

As you note, it comes down to cutting bait with Lamb or Monroe, or losing Bass or Bonser or Breslow (the new leftie).

In addition to the contractual considerations you suggest, I think organization depth makes it clear that the pitcher is the right one to sacrifice.

After all, you're talking about losing a player whose 'wasted salary' impact would be nearly or completely recovered by any team picking him up. Further, the Twins relative plethora of pitching depth should allow for ample replacement choices if an injury or two occurs.

I'm not saying they'd be great, but couldn't Danny Graves, or Korecky or Daigle or DePaula or even Mulvey or Humber come up and fill the role of "mop-up" guy? Or, if Boof continues to struggle, one of these might take the Juan Rincon memorial "shaky setup guy" role?

With the continued development of the starters and Liriano's measurable progress in the minors, the day when a pitcher-crunch develops is inevitable.

No, you don't want to lose organizational assets without compensation. But as assets go, a 12th man in a bullpen is pretty much the definition of 'league replacement level.' Witness our ability to pick up Breslow.

If we need another pitcher and don't want to move up anyone from the minors, the waiver wire is filled with guys who are floating from roster to roster, mopping up games.

After all, the Twins refused to accept the knuckleballer back from Seattle when they offered him back for the Rule 5 'reclaim' price.


TT said...

After all, the Twins refused to accept the knuckleballer back from Seattle when they offered him back for the Rule 5 'reclaim' price.

Actually, they didn't. The Twins got Jair Hernandez, a minor league catcher, for Dickey.

the waiver wire is filled with guys who are floating from roster to roster, mopping up games.

That isn't true. In fact, a lot of teams are looking for pitchers who can get major league hitters out. That's one reason why it is very unlikely Bonser or Bass would clear waivers.

the Twins relative plethora of pitching depth

Where is that depth? The only pitcher at AAA that looks remotely read to step into the rotation is Liriano. And he isn't ready. Korecky may be able to step into the bullpen. But the reality is that the Twins vaunted pitching depth appears to be mostly anticipation, rather than anyone really ready for the major leagues.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that the Twins' left-handed hitters as a group are much better than their right-handed hitters, so adding another lefty bat isn't as appealing as it otherwise would be.

Realistically the only position player Span could replace is Monroe, and lest we forget, Monroe has hit some key home runs for this team. That doesn't mean Monroe should be on the club rather than Span, imho, but it's probably enough to keep Span where he is for now.

Curveball said...

Hey, the Twins need to choose between Bass or Boof for late-inning mop-up. Sadly, Boof would be the guy to keep. Bass will just become another Willie Eyre, at least when 2009 rolls around, sadly. Boof might still have a minor upside.

Hummm...did we essentially trade Rincon and cash for Breslow? Maybe this was a good deal.

Also, Korecky is in the wings. Has ably proven to handle major league batters. Humber has some experience. DePaula is still a prospect. Barrett is finally healthy and waiting a call. And you got Graves or Daigle...both comparable to Bass, I'm sure.

If Span comes up, will he play? The Twins have to make a decision on him for 2009 especially. He's out of options and has to stay in 2009 or go elsewhere. Pridie...is he a viable 4th outfielder?

Look for the Twins to maybe market Monroe, Lamb, Hernandez, Boof (will he get out of the 9th, suspense is killing me). The Twins also need to consider Reyes as tradebait and how much stock they put into any lefties down on the farm (a guy named Gomez, there, too...not to mention Jason Miller at AA ball).

My biggest worry is Delmon. How he is taking the fact that Tampa Bay is/was playing well, and his stock as a Twin is fielding criticism. He's a player better than this, but who knows. And Gomez, I doubt, would go down.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't know about you but I didn't expect Young to struggle NEARLY as much as he has... In fact, I really didn't expect him to suck at all. Remember when we said he would out-produce Torii Hunter? Yeah... about that.